Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, along with State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers, on Wednesday hosted a virtual press conference regarding the “record high” number of COVID-19 cases reported on Wednesday. 

The Mississippi State Department of Health on Wednesday reported 2,457 new cases statewide. 

MSDH Communications Director Liz Sharlot said Wednesday that the “numbers are alarmingly high and that we are lacking hospital space.” 

“I want to say two quick things,” she said. “Number one, we need the leaders in this state to stand behind our guidelines and stand with us in saving lives. The second thing is that everyone in the public should, if you have someone that gets sick, you may or may not have hospital space here. It does not look good at this time. With rising cases and increasing hospitalizations, we are looking at a big mess to put it in laymen’s terms.” 

Dobbs said that now is the time for a “good hard reevaluation.” 

On Tuesday, the state reported a “record” number of hospitalizations for people diagnosed with COVID-19, Dobbs said, “145, which is higher than any time throughout the summer.” 

“The trend is starting to increase,” he said. “We know that there is a lot of pressure that’s going to be hitting us because of the Thanksgiving holidays.” 

Dobbs said that there are currently 13 major medical centers with zero ICU beds and 20 other hospitals that have ten percent or less of ICU beds available. 

“This is a really frightening shortage,” he said. “And if we look at the trend, it’s continuing to worsen.” 

For these reasons, Dobbs said, the MSDH released public health guidelines on Wednesday, “urging every Mississippi resident that they should avoid any social gathering that include individuals outside of the nuclear family or household.” 

“MSDH recommends that Mississippians only participate in work, school, or other absolutely essential activities,” Dobbs said. “We recommend that Mississippians protect themselves and avoid public or social gatherings such as the following: All social events or parties; family gatherings outside of the household or nuclear family; weddings; funerals other than close family and preferably outdoors; all sporting events; and in person church services. We have seen numerous outbreaks linked to the these events. We’ve seen these outbreak events lead to outbreaks within longterm care settings and nursing homes. And we have seen people who went to funerals last week and who are on ventilators today and are likely to die. These are very serious concerns that we have and as we see more deaths, there are going to be more funerals and more opportunities for outbreaks at funerals. I urge you to be thoughtful about this — funerals are especially high risk endeavors because people invariably are going to hug, touch, they’re going to cry, they’re going to share their condolences and we have to remember that many if not most, at least 50 percent of transmissions, are occurring from people who are asymptomatic and don’t know that they have it. And you wouldn’t know. That’s why it’s important to avoid all social gatherings and assume that anyone with whom we come in contact is going to be contagious.” 

Byers added that the state has now “exceeded” what officials believed Mississippi’s peak was during the summer. 

He said that more community transmission is having more of an impact on adults 65 and older and the state is seeing additional deaths. 

Byers said that although the state hasn’t reached the spike in death from the summer months, the state is starting to see an increase.” 

Byers said that by and large, the age group most impacted by the deaths is individuals over the age of 65.

“But it’s important to understand that even in the younger group, in folks in their 20s, folks in their teens, and individuals in their 30s, we have seen a number of deaths occurred. Often times these are individuals who have not had pre-existing health problems that would have identified them as at-risk. Now is the time for us to really decide what is essential for us, what are the most essential activities that we need to be doing and how we can impact and start to bring this curve down.” 

Dobbs said that the state’s daily case rates are “way higher” than the summer and the hospitalizations are going at a rate that is “absolutely terrifying.” 

“It’s not going to end at least for weeks, if we did everything perfect today, it’s going to be a week or two before we even see an impact from that because we’re still going to be processing people that are exposed, who are getting sick and who are dying. Without a doubt, I think we’re headed into the darkest period of the coronavirus for Mississippi.”

Dobbs added that the spread is “preventable in the most simple of ways.” 

“We don’t need to be having social events, period, of any kind whatsoever right now,” Dobbs said. “We’re almost to a vaccine that looks very effective and very safe, we’ve just got to just have a little bit of discipline right now or we’re going to see a lot more cases.” 

Dobbs said that residents do need to wear a mask

“But to be very clear, if we all wore masks in public right now, it would not be remotely enough,” Dobbs said. “What is driving transmission are people in social settings when they are not going to wear a mask. It’s people at funerals that are hugging people. It’s the social things, it’s the sacred ceremonies that are driving our transmission. The mask part is an important part of it, but they all go together. Each piece is an important component. This is a drama that’s going to play out with a lot of players. We all have a role to play and a lot of us aren’t playing the roles.” 

Dobbs said that high-risk older residents are “being more responsible.” 

“Because they understand if you’re over 65, the chance of dying after being diagnosed with Coronavirus is 13 percent,” he said. “That’s a real high-risk sort of scenario. What we have not been able to communicate, and it’s part of human nature, is yes, I might in fact survive it, but the person I give it to is not. There has been way too much of a ‘me’ focus than an ‘us’ focus. It’s not going to stop with you, you’re going to give it to somebody else. It might be somebody you don’t know, it might be somebody you love. And that’s the ‘us’ part that we really need to be more thoughtful of.” 

Dobbs said that he wouldn’t “recommend shutting down the state.” 

“What we’ve learned throughout this is that people can go to work, people can go to class and get an education safely,” Dobbs said. “What I think makes a lot of sense — and some of the executive orders stick to this — is that non-essential social or other type events are wrecking our response, absolutely destroying it. I wouldn’t recommend hurting the economy in that sort of way because it’s not going to be the best bang for our buck. I think people should wear a mask, but I’m actually way more worried about social events, to be quite honest. Where we are in the pandemic right now, just to be very clear, it’s non-essential social activities that are absolutely undermining the health and well being of our state.” 

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